High West's story is an interesting one. For a long time, it was a distillery in the heart of Mormon territory that didn't actually make much (if any) of its own alcohol. To me, that reality is so bizarre it calls a certain song to mind.
And yet, High West has earned accolades by a lot of decently informed people with excellent palates. So what gives? Shouldn't there be pitchforks and cries of plagiarism? Isn't this just flagrant repackaging at best? Well, not quite.
High West has for a long time called a spade a spade. It's one of the few distillers (perhaps whiskeymakers, as John Glaser might say) to be open and honest about sourcing its whiskey from elsewhere. Indeed, the craft comes from sourcing good whiskey and combining it in delicious, unexpected ways. Let's also not forget that—for years—this was the M.O. of the scotch whisky industry in promoting blends with their own character. That is, before everyone got bit by the single malt bug.
So back to the matter at hand: Rendezvous Rye is a good example of a quality product. While not cheap at $55, High West combines a 16-year-old rye with an 80% rye mash bill with a 6-year-old rye with a 95% rye mash bill. If you're confused as to what this means, check out our Rye write up. (Rye't up?)
I'll put the Rendezvous in clearer terms: it's a real Rye. It's not one of those "barely legal" ryes with a miserly 51% mash bill that's intended to appeal to bourbon drinkers who aren't sure of what they want. This is a big, brash, American rye whiskey with all of the herbs and wood spice you could ask for.
One of the hallmarks of the MGP / LDI-produced ryes I actually like is that there's a lot of big dill aromas and flavors in the glass that add some savory interest. Once that fades in the development, the arrival rushes forward with a heaping portion of dark bread and buttered pancakes. Like any good rye, it crackles on its way out. You don't lack flavor or complexity in this bottle.
The only real knocks to the RR are that, first, it's rough. You'll smell the alcohol and it'll nip you when it gets in your mouth. Don't start someone's twenty-first birthday with a slug of this expecting them to join hands in celebration with the other members of the whiskey commune. If you're new to the category, there are less aggressive options.
But second, it's also a little pricey. The whiskeys used here range from 5-19 years, and I suspect we're paying for it. The cheaper Double Rye by High West uses 2-16 year formula and gives you about a $20 break on the price. I haven't had it, but it would make for an interesting side-by-side to see whether the essential character is intact at a younger age.
In any case, the Rendezvous Rye isn't a go-to bottle for me, but it's a good statement of what High West is doing. Depending on your tastes, it may absolutely be worth the price of admission.